Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pancake Brunch

Dear Angela, Ryan and Laura,
I'm sitting here in my wet swimsuit because I just came from a day at the beach, but I wanted to tell you about my day. By the way, you cannot say "wet" here In Sierra Leone. It means something completely different in British English, which is what most people speak here. Every time I say it, someone teases me. I'm trying to strike it from my vocabulary. Also, Minnesotans say "noooooooo" alot. I say it when I disagree with something and everyone teases me for saying it. I tell them it will be my legacy when I leave....everyone will remember me for saying...."Noooooo!"

This morning I invited my closest friends over for a pancake brunch....a real American breakfast. I have fond memories of making pancakes for you guys on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Remember when we would have toppings of blueberries or cherries or apples and whipped cream? If I didn't have whipped cream, I would use slightly melted vanilla ice cream and you all loved that. Ice cream for breakfast...what kid would refuse that? Anyway, today I made sausages and bacon and pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup. My friends called it "maple sauce" which at least I could understand. I made German coffee later and everyone liked that too. Laura makes the best German coffee ever and I have to say that today I would have riveled yours. My friends thought the breakfast was sweet tasting, but at least I exposed them to what Americans eat for breakfast, which is what cultural exchange is all about, right? I have realized lately that being here in Sierra Leone is not only about learning about other cultures, but also about exposing my friends to my American culture. I had a great time explaining how to prepare the pancakes: put butter on top of the pancakes, put some blueberries on top if you wish and then warm maple syrup. The things we take so for granted are totally foreign to others. What a revelation. I also made a rum cake and I also served cheese and bread for my guests who were too shy to try the pancakes. Everyone had a nice time. We talked about family and I showed them photos from my running album and from Angela's wedding. I am so lucky to have such good friends here. They all thanked me profusely for the breakfast. One thing I noticed is that everyone lingered after the meal. My Lebanese friends appreciate and value family and friends and they do not cut these visits short. In America, after the food is consumed, everyone usually goes about their business. Today, the brunch was a 3 hour affair and I was happy to spend this time with my very good friends.

Today...appreciate the people around you. Think about what makes them special. Think about what makes them unique. Remember back to how you came to meet them. I miss Angela, Ryan and Laura and Scott and Tom and Allison and Regina and Kristin and Kevin and all the people I have made pancakes for over the years. But I feel very lucky to have met such wonderful friends here in Sierra Leone...people to get to know and to share my life with.

Count all the blessings in your life. Be safe. Appreciate the small things.

And I hope all is well in your corner of the world.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas #3 - Interesting Party Quips

Last night I hosted a Christmas Party Open House. About 32 people came; including the Ambassador! She was the first one to arrive, which was quite unnerving. She is very gracious and commented on how lovely and Christmas-y the house looked. I got her a glass of white wine and anxiously awaited the arrival of more guests. The house filled up nicely. I had hired a cook to make the appetizers, but I made all of the Christmas cookies; spritz, peanut blossoms, strawberry bon bons, Russian tea cakes, and chocolate chip cookies. I also hired two girls to hostess. There was a nice mix of people from all over the world. A couple of things happened that I wanted to share with you.

When the maid/hostess first arrived, the light bulb went out in the living room lamp. I gave her a new bulb and told her to change it out. Next thing I know, the bulb is shattered all over the floor. I got a new bulb and went over to help her. I found out she had only "placed" the bulb in the socket; she had not screwed it in....which is why it fell out and shattered all over the floor. As I was screwing it in, I happen to ask her: "Do you have any lights like this in your house?" She said no. It dawned on me that she probably does not have electricity and certainly does not have anything with a light bulb in it. She looked at me like she had never even seen a light bulb before. in her life. I couldn't believe it! She works at the US Embassy as a cleaning girl. Imagine a world where you have never seen a light bulb.

I sat down with my friends from Lebanon and one of them had his wife arrive a couple of days ago from Beirut. This friend happens to have a pet money, Chico, tied to a tree in his backyard. I have been around this monkey a few times and he seemed harmless, although the idea of tying a wild animal to a tree depresses me greatly. So, when the wife arrived at the house, the monkey attacked her and she has bites and wounds all over her arms and legs. She described her ordeal and it seemed as the monkey was biting her, she could not move because the teeth were so far in her that it would tear her skin more to have struggled. It must have been terrifying! I thought to myself, when was the last time I was at a Christmas party discussing a monkey attack with an actual victim? Welcome to Africa.

As I said, the party included a nice mix of people. I invited people close to me and people I appreciate, so the party included the following: The US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, my boss (the second in command), colleagues from work, an attorney for the Special Court of Sierra Leone (who is from Ukraine), my friends from Lebanon and Egypt who are diamond dealers and land developers respectively, my cleaning lady, Mary and her husband...who I'm sure thought they were at a Hollywood party, (I bet they don't have electricity either, as she once asked me how to operate my vacuum cleaner, remember?) my other friends from Lebanon who have friends who work for non-profits here in Freetown, the outgoing and the incoming "high level security forces" in the US government, a couple of people from IMATT (International Military), an international journalist from Canada, a visiting woman named Sarah who started a company called "Brighter Tomorrow for Africa," and Hank and his wife Lisa; Hank is an accomplished singer/songwriter/ musician from Texas. Hank played his guitar and sang for us to close out the evening. I had a wonderful time and I think all my guests really enjoyed it too.

So far, I love this job!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas #2....and Sick Again!

First the good news. I unpacked all the Christmas boxes and I managed to bring almost all of the important Christmas memorabilia with me from Texas. You know how there are those special ornaments or decorations that really say "Christmas" to you? For me, that would be the home-made green clay Christmas trees that we made at a friends house when the kids went to St. Kevin's back in Minnesota. We spent the afternoon at the art teachers house, drinking cider and making these unique clay trees that we painted green. I always set them up by the manger. I was SO happy that I managed to remember to pack them and now have them here in Africa. I also unpacked the ceramic houses that make a village that my mother-in-law painstakingly painted for me back when she liked me. They are a warm Christmas memory. I was still waiting to find the manger, when in the very next box, there it was! Unfortunately, I brought the manger but no figures! There is no baby Jesus, no Mary, no Joseph, no camel, no angels, no wise men. So, I have this empty manger and I guess I have to assume that Mary and Joseph are still in the Middle East. I might have to make paper figures, as it just doesn't seem like Christmas without them. So the tree is decorated, the lights are sparkling, the house feels like Christmas, and all is well in Africa....well almost.

I am sick again. This time, it's not the awful African sickness that affects your stomach and your ability to eat. This time, it's a very bad cold and cough. So bad that when woke up this morning at 6:30 a.m., the moment I took a breath, I started coughing. I called the Embassy (sent a txt message, actually, as that's how everyone communicates here) and let them know I would not be coming in. For those of you who know me well, you know how sick I really am if I call and tell them I'm not coming in at all! Normally, I would call and say I don't feel well and I will be in later. This morning I knew that if I could not stop coughing, I would be worthless at work; not to mention contagious to everyone else. I dragged myself out of bed and started rummaging through my as yet unpacked boxes to see if I could find a thermometer. Eureka! I found it! I took my temperature....100. Wow, I guess that's why I spent last night alternating between freezing and shivering. I discovered a very old bottle of prescription cough syrup and took a couple teaspoons of that along with 2 ibuprofen for the fever and promptly went back to sleep until 11:30! Woke up feeling no better and decided to call the Embassy Dr. (Physicians Assistant, actually). She suggested I come in for an evaluation. So here I am, cozy in my bed, and she wants me to get dressed and drive to work! I was too sick to drive my own car, so I hired one of the Embassy drivers to come get me. (one of the perks of working overseas) I took a quick shower and threw on some jeans and headed to the Embassy--30 minutes away. It was nice to wear jeans to the Embassy because that's forbidden during the normal work day. The PA said I probably have bronchitis or a touch of pneumonia. She gave me a whole arsenal of drugs: daytime cough medicine, night cough medicine, Tylenol, and antibiotics. I went home and went right to sleep again. As long as I can keep the cough under control, I only have to worry about the fever; which returns like clockwork the exact minute the ibuprofen wears off. My temperature this afternoon was 101. Oh joy. So, it's just me and my blanket until the drugs have a chance to work. I'm trying not to think about the Christmas Party Open House that I am having for 50 people on Saturday...and all the cookies that are as yet not baked. I'm sure I will get everything done somehow.

Hope you are all well and healthy in your corner of the world.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas #1

Here in the tropics, it's very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Every day the weather is about 80 degrees and sunny. Palm trees abound, and the lush landscaping reminds me nothing of the harsh windy, snowy days of my youth in Minnesota. I called the US the other day for something and the person on the other end of the line said, "Happy Holidays" (which I suppose is the PC version of Merry Christmas these days) and I almost said, "what are you talking mean it's Christmas over there?" There are no decorations on people's houses here; I mean, people are lucky to have a shack with a curtain for a door so certainly they have no need for a pine bough wreath for their non-exist ant front door. Christmas lights? Remember, most of the time there is no electricity all that effort would be a waste of time. That is one thing I can definitely say I DO NOT miss about Christmas in the US....all those hours spent untangling the outdoor Christmas lights!! The last couple of years, I gave it about an hour, then I threw away the string of lights and went to Walmart and bought a new set. I mean, $10 for a new set is worth the agony of untangling the mess from last year! I think that is one of the mysteries of come when I CAREFULLY wind the strings of lights and CAREFULLY place them in the box.....then something like 345 days go by and they somehow tangle themselves into a giant ball? Or, how come the same string of lights that worked last year suddenly goes dark the very next year without even being plugged in! Do they use up their lifespan in the box?

So , today I decided to decorate for the Christmas Open House I am having next Saturday. I have probably already invited 40 people and since I find myself inviting everyone I see that I like, so I'm sure I'll be up to 60 by next weekend. I'm only serving appetizers and cookies and wine, so that should be manageable.

I took out the boxes of Christmas decorations I had brought...7 boxes in all. I well remember being in Austin in March and randomly selecting some decorations while the movers were waiting on me....from the 12 or so boxes of Christmas stuff I own. When I opened them today, I had no idea what I'd find. I have only opened 4 of them, but so far, so good. I brought the tree and set that up. It was strange to have to "unfold" all the little branches, because of course the movers wrapped the tree in paper to resemble a torpedo. Luckily the lights were already on the tree, which actually posed a problem. The lights are 110 electric current, so that means they require a transformer. Transformers are scarce in my house (I only have 3) so I have to put the tree where I can plug in the lights into an existing transformer. That meant the tree needed to be in the living room near the computer. There are only two outlets on the transformer, so whenever I am on the computer (which is one plug) I have to decide if I want to have the lamp on (the remaining plug) or listen to my ipod in the dark (because if I plug in the ipod, I cannot plug in the lamp). Such electrical complications. Then eureka! In a box, I found a 110 electrical strip that has 6 outlets! But now the question....could I safely plug the strip into the transformer with all those American appliances? I held my breath, plugged it in and turned on the power switch. The Christmas tree lights came right on and the tree looked magical! I was so happy I had not blown anything up. (Did I tell you I fried my DVD/VHS player when I got here because I stupidly plugged a 110 into a 220? Idiot!!)

Anyway, I have 4 more boxes to unpack, so I better get back to it. I already got a sneak peak at some of the decorations that made it and I'm happy. There are a lot of memories attached to the green quilted tree skirt I made, the cross-stitched framed Santa for the wall, and of course the little felt and sequined ornaments hand made by my mother-in-law for our first Christmas as a married couple when we had nothing and could not afford to buy anything. I think both Angela and Laura are hoping I leave them to them in my will! I hope I find the green clay trees that we made with the kids at St. Kevins...I hope I find the white crocheted Angel that I bought from a mail order catalog when the kids were young...I hope I find the manger...I hope I find the smokers from Germany....and I hope I find enough memories from the past to sustain me during this, my first Christmas alone.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world.

Oh, I send special Birthday greetings to my Mom and a VERY dear friend of mine, both of whom celebrate birthdays on December 7th. Wish I could be there to give you a hug.

Love from Africa,